Guy’s news: Recipe boxes, carthorses & unicorns

It’s hard being a carthorse grazing with unicorns. 30 years of learning our trade and patiently reinvesting profits have served Riverford well, but are we out of step with the herd? Looking around our field, I find us surrounded by a new and impatient breed of business: hungry for growth, and backed by even hungrier private capital. The combination is explosive, and makes scary company for an old nag used to plodding along alone.

For the more grounded among you, a ‘unicorn’ is a privately owned startup company valued at more than $1 billion; think Facebook, Uber, Airbnb, Dropbox and Pinterest. They call them unicorns because they are so vanishingly rare – but that doesn’t stop a generation of techy wannabes dreaming of being the next Mark Zuckerberg. Home delivery of food ordered over the internet, and recipe boxes in particular, are seen as high-growth areas ripe for unicorn status; Farmdrop, Gousto, HelloFresh and the like vye with the more traditional mammoths like Amazon/Whole Foods and Ocado.

Having declared that Riverford will be sold not to venture capitalists, but to its hard-working, modestly paid staff, we have no access to the cash sloshing around the global economy looking to grow on the back of the next big thing. Instead we must make a profit before we can invest. That means we stick to what we know, don’t spend much on marketing, and look after our long-term customers rather than discounting to tease in new ones; in short, we plod. That might mean we get left behind, worrying about growing veg rather than share value. But it may also mean that those unicorns all chase themselves round the field faster and faster, running in ever smaller circles, until poof! All that is left is a cloud of smoke and some stardust… and we can all go back to our carrots.

Before they got me thinking about unicorns, I meant to write about our organic recipe boxes. We don’t advertise much, but they really are the best. You can now choose whichever recipes you fancy each week: 1, 2, 3 or more, including new vegan options. We’ll deliver everything bar the salt and pepper for your chosen recipes. All the joys of cooking with good ingredients, with none of the waste or the faff of planning.

Guy Singh-Watson

26 responses to “Guy’s news: Recipe boxes, carthorses & unicorns

  1. Beware the alicirn. Plod on, old nag, plod on…

  2. I’m sure, some day soon, doing things the proper way will become the next ‘big thing’ anyway once people fully realise you cant short-cut good health.

    Plodding is how it’s always been done and long may it continue!

  3. Don’t underestimate the value of calm. A buzz word too, but in the frantic media circus that most of us are hurled into these days, it is reassuring to know that there are options like Riverford that help to ground the mad energy and slow it all down. Hopefully word of mouth will always stand you in good stead, as it is hard to see the wood for the trees in advertising and most people I know distrust and avoid it.
    Keep up the good work, it is appreciated.

  4. Thank goodness for farmers like you is all I can say.

  5. Sadly our society is driven by money and many are forgetting the value of commitment, ethos and quality. As a family, we chose Riverford for what it means and we have never been disappointed, excellent produce and customer’s service. Keep the good work and keep plodding because many of us do appreciate and value very much what do you do.
    Regarding Recipe Boxes you also have a 5 star, we ordered them every now and then and they are excellent. You cook things you will never cook otherwise. It is true you end with little pots of plastic but we do use them as portion measurements for every day’s cooking and the little bottles we keep them for filling them with shampoo, etc when travelling or to mix essential oils, the extra we give them away or put in the recycling.

  6. Keep on plodding. The quality of all of your food is exceptional. Why would anyone want to change? I love the fact that you grow some more unusual vegetables. And I think you have changed over the years to meet the needs of a wider clientele.
    In the early days the contents of the box was a surprise. Such a joy to come home and discover what I had to cook with. I still love unpacking the box… Even though I know what is going to be inside.
    Loyally yours!

  7. 740 plus boxes later-and we plod with you-forever!
    Thankyou for all you do for us x

  8. Don’t get discouraged – carthorses are steady, reliable, incredibly loyal, up to whatever job you give them and also extremely beautiful. Who would want to swap that for a unicorn?

  9. Carolyn Westlake

    But what about the packaging on those recipe boxes? I tried one once, won’t do it again I still have the plastic pot that holds 2. tablespoons of rice🙁

    • Recyclable plastic pots. Almost all the rest (bar plastic bags and film) is cardboard, also reusable and recyclable.

  10. Plodding is smarter…the hare and the tortoise?

  11. Guy, Please don’t change the Riverford ethos . The unicorn is, after all, a mythical creature. Since I first started ordering from Riverford there have been many changes and I often look back fondly to the days when there wasn’t so much choice – life was simpler when I happily received what was in the box each week without being tempted by extras. ( p.s. I love your recipe boxes despite feeling guilty about the little plastic pots ! )

  12. I hope all the responses show you how much Riverford and your hard work us appreciated. I choose my own veg rather than a box and it is always wonderful quality. You have a solid long term company – and a heap of integrity! Thank you.

  13. Hi,I have just looked at box contents with a view to restarting my deliveries. I only stopped as moved into a caravan while building work being done and no suitable storage. I fully support local businesses and was dismayed that the UK veg box is not listed. I want to eat what is seasonal in my area and support local farmers.

  14. Humility and simplicity are the keys to true progress, as they enable the spiritual development of earthly deeds, even if they are attained at snail pace. This cannot be underestimated. For those without this connection to the supporting threads from the beyond, they will increasingly look like headless chickens before quite naturally imploding, with some very serious spiritual implications for the originators of these forms; be they corporate companies, the stock market, or the ‘modern version of the unicorn’. The very terminology makes me shudder, for when I think of the real meaning of a unicorn, I think of a very lofty, luminous creature, rarely seen by mankind unless seriously blessed. How far we have fallen as a race in our presumptious and conceited nature, by which we drag even the most beautiful and sacred matters into the gutter.

  15. Françoise Szigeti

    As I agree with all the comments posted so far, I can only repeat that I appreciate the quality of your produce and the ethos of your company.

    I wish it to continue for a long while under its new structure. Staff owned companies are to be commended. This should be the wave of the future.

    All the best.

  16. Pamela Araujo

    I value Riverford and have been happy to shop with you for several years but I confess that while appreciating your veg selection is seasonal and excellent, the lack of selection of fruits, deli items, home-made pies and pastries, soups and many of your juices (including the Apple & Ginger one I always ordered) means, sadly, your range of goods has become very limited. While appreciating your costs need to be covered and you need to make a profit, some of the prices now listed can challenge loyalty to Riverford for those of us on limited incomes. I do wish you all well and will endeavour to continue to support your enterprise, but I am sure I am not the only one who still wishes to shop with you but at the same time needs to be realistic as far as expenditure is concerned. Also, sadly, I have found on several occasions that goods have been omitted from my orders and instead of the money deducted being reimbursed to my account you have held it over until I place another order- this is a practice that I find questionable and unprofessional. Presently you still hold a small amount taken against my last order for something as simple as oregano which was apparently not available at the time. Perhaps you’d be kind enough to look into this for me? Thank you. I wish you continued success and a profitable summer.

  17. One of the reasons that many long established biz went to the wall in the financial crisis over the last (almost) decade (yikes, was it that long ago!) was that they’d been lured with the promise of cash now (for their wildest dreams of expansion), pay later of private capital finance – which generally involves enormous fees to the advisers, lots of cash extracted for the shareholders instead of being actually reinvested and levels of debt to finance it all, with interest rates and repayment schedules that are unsustainable when the economy changes. Biz such as Woolworths despite being viable biz with a solid income, couldn’t meet their cashflow requirements as they were constantly being undermined by the need to service the debts.

    Another example of shortsightedness in biz is that of sovreign funds. Norway for example set up a sovreign fund into which they ploughed the profits of their finite oil fields into a state fund. Which is now quite large and enables them to weather most global economic vagaries. The UK decided to spend their revenues as they went along. We have austerity cos we’re always robbing Peter to pay Paul.

    The A-Z map company in London is employee owned via a trust. Which has (to my certain knowledge) caused venture capitalists to instantly lose interest in a possible suitable cash rich biz they could extract cash from in return for debt (obviously that’s not how they sell it, but it’s what happens). Being employeed trust owned, has actually kept them independent and able to maintain the standards they wish to set for employees and their publications when so many other biz have been targeted for asset stripping.

    Frankly, late stage capitalism is struggling and failing, so as long as the employee owned biz has adequate actual cashflow to continue, and a talented board of trustees/directors who are capable of both the long and the short view, I see no reason why the carthorse would be considered for the knackerman for many years to come…. the unicorns on the other hand, it’s a lie, they don’t actually fart glitter and rainbows….

  18. There’s little I can add to the sentiments above without repetition! If being loyal to Riverford is “plodding” then we’ve been “plodding” for 13 years now and we have rarely been disappointed. Keep going, Guy . . .

  19. Maybe the pots could be returned for reuse? It’s the only reason I haven’t tried the meals.

  20. Elizabeth Lewis

    I love the recipe boxes, there are such original ideas and the vegetarian ones especially can be very imaginative. I do need to put in a plea for more potatoes and less quinoa though!

  21. Please don’t stop, I have tried growing carrots I was terrible at it.
    I can’t tell you how much I admire you all being able to turn up with a box of such good quality veg each week with out resorting to slug pellets. Anyone who mocks organic should try doing it.
    But most of all I but your veg because it quite simply tastes better than the stuff from the supermarket.
    And by the way hello fresh tried very hard to get me to sign up but I can read a recipe book and enjoy the challenge of cooking with something other than broccoli. So I am sticking firmly with you.

  22. When my children were young I always ordered your large veg and fruit boxes. I always remember the children carrying the boxes up the garden path one child on each end excited to see what we had and what they could eat. Choosing organic for my children was a must, I wanted the best for them. I have encouraged them to order from Riverford for their children. Your boxes were and are a joy to receive.
    Don’t change, regardless of unicorns.

  23. Robert Baxter

    Whilst welcoming and liking the idea for the future running of Riverford will it include customer service personnel such as the team of Franchisees who are the front line of the Riverford family?

  24. Having plenty of much-loved and used recipe books, I have no need for a recipe box. Far more focused on accessing real quality produce with heart, morals and good ethics. Which at present very much means yourselves. Whatever the current flashy fashions, I’d rather you continue to plod with those of us happy with food as good food. There are so many recipe boxes out there that another is just an extra ticket on a band wagon. More exciting are the experiments with niche or unusual veg that otherwise get little attention (I for one would love to get mini Persian finger cucumbers. Unusual radicchios. Forgotten fruits. Etc.)The food itself as “novelty”, not the box it comes in!

  25. Vicki Johnson

    I’m drooling over this week’s box and sobbing with tears of frustration and exasperation over the sentiments in the ever excellent newsletter. Don’t stop ploughing that straight and decent furrow you brilliant carthorse.

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